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Wednesday, April 15, 2015

When criminal law meets neuroscience


Transformative technology marks the progress of humanity. It also inevitably raises questions. Just think of all the issues the spread of the Internet has raised, from net neutrality to anonymous harassment to search privacy. Not all of the issues are negative, of course, as exemplified by the question all non-profits are now asking themselves: how can we replicate the fundraising success of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge?
One sector of technology innovation that doesn’t get much attention in the media, but seems poised to make game-changing strides, is neuroscience and its applications for criminal and civil law. In 2011, the MacArthur Foundation granted $4.5 million to establish the national Research Network on Law and Neuroscience (which shortens its name to the Network) headquartered at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee.
Their mission includes examining the multiple effects of modern neuroscience on criminal law, designing and conducting neuroscientific research, and trying to make neuroscience accessible and beneficial to America’s courtrooms.
This field is so new that it is more defined by questions than answers at this pioneering stage. To get a sense of those questions, we turned to the Network’s Director, Owen Jones, who is one the country’s few professors of both law and biology.